ROCHESTER, Minnesota – Dr. Scott Jensen, a sceptic of the government’s response to COVID-19, got the Minnesota GOP’s endorsement on Saturday following a wild ride to defeat Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in November, winning 65 percent of the vote on the ninth ballot.
Jensen, a former state senator who led on the first two ballots, recovered the lead on the seventh round with 59 percent of the vote, barely short of the 60 percent needed for the endorsement, after Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy endorsed him after he was ousted on the sixth ballot.
“Game done,” Jensen told the delegates, flanked by his running mate, former Minnesota Viking and Baltimore Raven Matt Birk, who pumped up the crowd with football metaphors.
Jensen’s comeback put an end to a surge by business executive Kendall Qualls, who slipped to 33% on the final ballot after leading on the fourth. However, Jensen encountered a snag when Qualls, who was attempting to become the Minnesota GOP’s first Black gubernatorial endorsee, erroneously stated that Murphy had offered to be his running mate, then retracted the offer.
The assertion enraged several Qualls delegates, prompting two further ballots. Qualls also made a point of avoiding joining Jensen on stage for the typical show of party unity, leaving the convention on a sour note.
However, Qualls and the majority of other candidates agreed to honour the party’s support and renounce the right to run in the GOP primary on Aug. 9, and State Chairman David Hann told reporters that Jensen was unlikely to face a strong fight. Former President Donald Trump, who is still a powerful figure in the Republican Party, has not backed anyone in Minnesota.
In a statement, Minnesota Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin said, “Minnesota Republicans have chosen the most extremist and dangerous candidate to head their party in the fall.” “Scott Jensen has promised to restrict abortion for rape victims and to imprison one of his political opponents in the previous two weeks. Minnesotans want their politicians to prioritise aiding working families, but Scott Jensen is solely concerned with his far-right political agenda.”
Jensen, who entered the convention as the expected front-runner, admitted that he was worried when he slipped behind for four consecutive ballots.
“But what made me even more apprehensive was the fact that I had no idea what would happen next,” Jensen explained. “And, you know, as a doctor, the last thing you want to be in is a situation where you don’t have control.” So it was quite a ride. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”
The 2,100 delegates had hoped to finish their job by the Saturday deadline of 6 p.m., but the relatively quick and painless computerised voting process Friday minimised the possibilities of running out of time and leaving without a vote. Delegates and party leaders are expecting that at least one of their candidates will become the first Republican elected to a statewide post since Governor Tim Pawlenty was re-elected in 2006.
Jensen, a Chaska family physician, was the first to enter the marathon and raised the most money. As he presented his COVID-19 vaccination scepticism — and opposition to mask mandates and school and business closures — as support for medical freedom, he gained a national following. In his address, he emphasised his work as a state legislator to oppose the Walz administration’s response to the outbreak.
“Everyone in this room understands that Tim Walz has failed on some way.” He’s done. But who will take the first step? Who will serve for the common good, security, and safety of all people? Who will help Minnesota reclaim its rightful place as the North’s brilliant and sparkling star?” Jensen posed the question in a video that played before his address. “You are the answer.”
Jensen was accompanied on stage by Birk, who reminded delegates that following the Ravens’ 2013 Super Bowl victory, he refused to visit the White House because of President Barack Obama’s support for abortion rights.
Qualls detailed his journey from poverty through college, Army officer, and business success. He claims that his existence is proof of the Democratic agenda’s failure and that the American ideal is still alive.
“The radical left believes I have no right to be here.” The media believes I have no business being here. To thunderous cheers, Qualls said, “Tim Walz wishes I wasn’t here at all.” “And poor Joe Biden, he tells folks who look like me that we’re not black, that we didn’t vote for him.” Well, I’m still Black despite voted twice for Donald J. Trump for president. And I remain a Republican. And I’m going to be Tim Walz’s and Joe Biden’s worst nightmare.
Former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, an East Gull Lake state legislator who ran on a platform of support for law enforcement, withdrew out after the third ballot and endorsed Qualls. Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake, who ran but pulled out before the convention, has thrown her support behind Qualls.
On Saturday, though, it remained unclear whether Jensen would avoid a major primary challenge. Former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who had been seeking the endorsement, was forced to withdraw due to a recent vehicle accident, and has yet to make a decision. Hann admitted that he hadn’t communicated with the Stanek campaign in a while.
In a statement released Saturday, his campaign said, “Rich and his campaign team are examining all possibilities for going ahead to defeat Walz in November.”
The convention nominated corporate attorney Jim Schultz for attorney general on Friday night, a position Minnesota Republicans haven’t held since 1968. He’s attempting to unseat incumbent Keith Ellison, a former congressman who led the prosecution team that secured ex-Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction in Floyd’s death.
Doug Wardlow, the party’s candidate in 2018 and the general attorney for MyPillow, was beaten by Schultz. Mike Lindell, the CEO of that company, has gained national attention for spreading the bogus notion that Trump won the 2020 election. Former Washington County judge Tad Jude and attorney Lynne Torgerson both lost. Former state legislator Dennis Smith intends to run against Schultz in the Republican primary.